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UX copywriting guidelines for email and SMS

I wrote these guidelines for copywriters at Wunderman Thompson, who were working in email and SMS marketing communications. The document includes channel considerations, a breakdown of email elements, and copywriting guidelines for each component.

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UX copywriting guidelines for email and SMS

  1. 1. UX COPYWRITING GUIDELINES FOR EMAIL AND SMS By Jacqueline Conrad, February 28, 2019
  2. 2. [NEED examples of straightforward and vague subject lines.] * Data gathered July 10-17, 2017, referenced from Adobe Blog, ‘Consumers Are Still Email Obsessed, But They’re Finding More Balance’ *
  3. 3. Email messaging should aim to inform more than entertain or sell. Adobe asked consumers in a survey “If you could change one thing about the emails you get from brands, what would it be?” The majority said they wished email content was less about promotion and more about providing information. They’re savvy about when someone’s selling too hard.* * Adobe SlideShare, ‘Adobe Consumer Email Survey Report 2017’, Slide 32
  4. 4. Subject Line Preheader Subject Line Preview Text Email Body From Name Called “Hidden Preheader” when not visible here but shows up as preview text in the inbox. Inbox Email
  5. 5. Subject Line Subject Line
  6. 6. Subject lines usually truncate on mobile devices when too long, so it’s recommended to keep the most critical information under 35 characters, including spaces. iPhone 7, Gmail App 36 34 37 32 37 36 34 Charactercounts
  7. 7. Don’t sell what’s inside— tell what’s inside. You can be witty, but not at the expense of clarity.
  8. 8. DON’Ts Too vague Too long + hidden critical info Too repetitive Too long + awkward truncation
  9. 9. DOs Be straightforward and give details in preview text Add personality while maintaining clarity (Through SL or preview text)
  10. 10. Use some consistency when you need to instill habits.
  11. 11. Use emojis in subject lines when it makes sense to be a little more playful.
  12. 12. Because not every emoji is supported by every email client, device, or deploy tool, emojis may get replaced by a or . Make sure the subject line communicates the right message even if the emoji gets replaced. Outlook, Firefox iOS Android Gmail Outlook
  13. 13. Emojis take up more space than text characters—about 2–5 times more space. This means maximum character counts should decrease when adding an emoji. 1 emoji 3.5 characters
  14. 14. iPhone 7, Gmail AppDesktop Browser Gmail
  15. 15. None 1 line (default) 5 lines
  16. 16. Since it’s not guaranteed that preview text will be visible to the user, the preview text should NOT be essential to the message.
  17. 17. iPhone 7, Mail App Default Setting When set to the default, smaller phones will show about 35-45 characters, including spaces. It’s recommended to keep essential info within a 40-character count. 45 46 Charactercounts 47 46
  18. 18. Elements within the email like image alt tags and body copy can show up in the preview text.
  19. 19. Subject line Preview text Logo Image Alt Tag Hero Image Alt Tag Live Text (Preheader) Live Text Live Text
  20. 20. * Litmus, ‘8 Embarrassing Preview Text Mistakes + 4 Tips on How to Avoid Making Them’
  21. 21. Headline Subhead Body Copy Call to Action (CTA) Logo/Header Inbox Email Hidden Preheader Preview Text Legal/Footer
  22. 22. Inbox Email The headline reinforces the subject line message and introduces the rest of the email content. The subhead gives a little more detail or context to the headline. Body copy provides more in-depth detail and reinforces the preview text message.
  23. 23. Inbox Email The headline reinforces the subject line message and introduces the rest of the email content. The subhead reinforces the preview text, and gives more detail or context to the headline
  24. 24. Inbox Email The headline reinforces the subject line and preview text message, while introducing the rest of the email content. The subhead provides a secondary, but related message.
  25. 25. Inbox Email Preview text truncates and does not get resolved or reinforced in the email. Takes too long to reinforce the subject line message.
  26. 26. The goals of a CTA button’s copy include: 1. Encourage action 2. Set expectations Test the button by asking users: “What would you expect to happen if you clicked this button?”
  27. 27. Optional: Lets the user know that there’s a potential time restriction. Only use when appropriate. It can increase conversion, but if used too often it can lose its effectiveness. Required: Lets the user know what will happen when they tap the button. Suggested: Clarifies to the user the type of content they can expect when they tap the button. Verb + Benefit + Urgency
  28. 28. See travel benefits Pre-order now Get offer details Verb + Benefit + Urgency Required Suggested Optional Get the app Sign up Subscribe Verb-only CTAs should be used only when enough context has been provided before arriving to this CTA.
  29. 29. Pay attention to the body of the email and the context it’s adding to the CTA button. now
  30. 30. Keep under 160 characters. Going over will result in multiple messages and could lead to: • Messages sent in the wrong order if there’s a glitch • Users getting turned off by long messages since they are used to getting succinct messages on SMS • Deployment lags due to higher throttle requirements for multiple messages, especially with a high # of recipients • Additional network charges since they charge per message
  31. 31. Keep it high-level with a link to learn more. Getting too specific may trigger the need for legal copy. For example, being specific about a percentage off on a product can trigger the need to present conditional information on that offer.